Shashi Kapoor: India's first international star

Shashi Kapoor: India's first international star
New Delhi The timeless poster boy of Indian cinema, whose charismatic screen presence was infectious, his urbane good looks highlited by a disarming smile, his nimble feet setting the screen on fire.

He wooed the ladies in style, the charming romantic hero of the 60's and the scion of filmdom's most famous dynasty - the Kapoors.

The youngest of the three siblings, Balbir Raj Kapoor aka Shashi Kapoor, like his famous brothers Raj Kapoor and Shammi Kapoor was no stranger to the stage or the studios.

His brush with the studios came early, starting out as a child actor in his father's famous travelling theatre Prithivi, making a start in brother Raj's hits Aag and Awara - playing the young Raj Kapoor.

After assisting his brother Raj Kapoor in a couple of films, Shashi Kapoor made his debut as leading man in Yash Chopra's Dharam Putra in 1961. The actor declined the National Award for it, saying his performance was not worthy.

Dharamaputra was followed by Chaar Diwari opposite Nanda - already an established star then and Bimal Roy's Prem Patra and Benezir with Meena Kumari. The films recieved a luke warm response at the box office and it seemed his career had plateaued.

His looks and style often dismissed as too western for the Hindi audience were soon to become his strength as the tide turned in his favour in 1965 with the musical romance Jab Jab Phool Khile. Cast opposite Nanda once again, the suave actor endeared as the the guache shikharwala.

The film, his first solo hit as an actor, was followed by the hit multi-starrer Waqt opposite Raj Kumar, Sunil Dutt, Sadhna and Sharmila Tagore.

On his way to stardom, he wooed his heroines with the same ease with which he danced, becoming Hindi cinema's favourite pin-up for romance.

The romantic musicals Kanyadaan and Pyaar Ka Mausam with Asha Parekh sent the cash registers ringing and he became the heartthrob of the silver screen.

The swashbuckling star kept up the momentum in the early 70's as he serenaded a bevy of beauties, his style in stark contrast to his illustrious brothers - Raj Kapoor's Chaplinsque style and the flambouyance of Shammi Kapoor.

Shashi Kapoor's approach being natural, the early 70s saw a roster of commercial successes like Sharmilee, Chor Macheye Shor, Roti Kapda Aur Makaan and Faqira.

But the '70s were slowly becoming the domain of the Angry Young Man, as the silver screen got scorched by the wrath of the anti-hero and his socio-political issues became the crux of the plot.

In the 1975 hit Deewar, with the mafia don and his self righteous policeman brother at logger heads with each other, he played the second lead to the emerging angry young man Amitabh Bachchan.

But the classic dialogue of all times belonged to Shashi Kapoor and the role won him the Filmfare award for Best Supporting Actor.

Buffering the storm of the anti-hero, Shashi Kapoor with his endearing charm was the perfect foil to the complexed angry young man's angst.

The actor slipped into playing second lead roles with ease, he formed a hit partnership with Amitabh Bachchan the two delievering one box office hit after another. From love triangles, drama, action to comedies.

With his western looks and style Shashi Kapoor was the perfect fit for indo-western productions. Being one of the first Hindi film actors to go international, the young actor who was working with his father's theater company Prithvi met Jennifer Kendal during his stint with her family's travelling repertory Shakespearana.

The couple married in 1958 and films became a medium to earn money to support the family, and though struggling to find his footing in Hindi cinema, his versatality in English brought him James Ivory's The Householder in 1963.

Being almost rejected for the part since he seemed too good looking to play the male protagonist cast opposite Leela Naidu, he played a newly-wed husband who finds his wife too independent and seeks advice from his overbearing mother. The film paved the way for further collaborations with Merchant-Ivory Productions. His versatility in English made him a recognizable face in critically acclaimed international films.

The Householder was followed by, Shakespearewallah - loosely based on the life of the Kendal family - the film followed the story of a group of nomadic British actors. The actor, who was part of the Kendal's travelling repertory Shakespearana - where he met his wife Jennifer Kendal - was cast opposite her sister Felicity Kendal in the film.

By 1965 as he continued to be successful in commerical Hindi films, he continued to receive offers from international cinema, playing a Eurasian guide in the 1967 Pretty Polly opposite Hayley Mills. It was followed by Merchant Ivory's Bombay Talkies opposite wife Jennifer in 1970.

The1983 romantic drama Heat and Dust which starred several faces from international and Indian cinema saw him play the nawab and In Custody - an adaptation of Anita Desai's book - saw him play the aging poet Nur and as always in any character given to him he cut an imposing figure. The film won him the Special Jury National Award.

But the multitasking actor was not one to restrict his talents to acting, as his stature in maintstream Hindi cinema rose in the 70s, the end of the decade saw him reach out towards more productive ventures.

Along with his wife Jennifer, he set up a permanent theater Prithivi in Mumbai in memory of his father and in the 1980s he set up his own film proudction company Film Vala's. The star pin up of the swinging '60s and '70s donned the producer's hat with ease.

Their first production, Junoon directed by Shyam Benegal was set against the revolt of 1857. Shashi Kapoor impressed as Javed Khan the feckless feudal cheiftain. The film won him the National Award and Filmfare award for Best Film.

Though his stint in commerical Hindi cinema continued in the '80s as the second lead, he impressed in parallel cinema.

Shyam Benegal's Kalyug, produced by the actor himself, was a modern day take on the Mahabharata and he impressed as the multi-layered Karan Singh. The film bagged the Filmfare award for Best Film.

His successful stint with film production continued with hits such as Vijeyta the launch pad for older son Kunal Kapoor in 1984 and the rather opulent Utsav directed by Girish Karnad starring Rekha.

He donned the director's hat with Ajooba, but the film failed to make a mark.

Honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008, his contribution and cinematic appeal remains timeless.

And the heartthrob of the '60s and the '70s it seems, continues to rule the hearts of fans and critics.
Story First Published: March 18, 2013 10:47 IST

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